Your domain name is the face of your website and your online brand — it’s the first thing visitors learn about your website. Every domain name is unique, but the best ones are relevant, familiar, and easy to remember.

To capture customer interest, you need to choose a domain with an appropriate domain extension. Whether it’s “.com”, “.org”, or otherwise, this short snippet of text is central to your online presence, as it shapes how visitors perceive your brand even before hitting your homepage.

So, what’s the right domain extension for your site? In this guide, I’ll review and compare some of the most well-known extensions you can use to cap off your domain name. And don’t worry if you’re unsure what a domain extension actually is. We’ll start there.

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What Is a Domain Extension?

There are two parts to every domain name: the name and the extension. Together, these form the “address” of your website on the internet.

The name, also known as the second-level domain, is the unique identifier of the website. The domain extension comes after the second-level domain. Domain extensions are also referred to as the top-level domains, or TLDs. These terms are used interchangeably.

a graphic showing the parts of a domain name, including the name and domain extension

While the second-level domain signals the name of your brand, the domain extension specifies the entity that your website represents. HubSpot’s top-level domain is “.com” because we’re a business.

Types of Domain Extensions

There are three types of domain extensions you should know when looking for a suitable option for your site: generic, sponsored, and country code.

Generic Domain Extensions

This is the most widely-used category of extension, and what most online businesses use in their domain names. Generic domain extensions are available to any website willing to buy, and some you’ll even find for free. The popular extensions .com, .org, and .net are generic, as are many other niche TLDs.

Sponsored Domain Extensions

Sponsored domain extensions may only be used by organizations that fit certain requirements. For instance, only certified educational institutions are allowed to use the .edu domain extension for their websites, and the .gov extension is restricted to entities under the United States government.

Country Code Domain Extensions

Many countries have their own two-letter domain extension to signify the organization’s location. Examples include .us (United States), .uk (United Kingdom), and .de (Germany).

Common Domain Extensions

Domain extensions were originally created to divide websites into categories based on organization type. The thinking was that all websites can be broken down first by the entity (the “top-level” category), then by organization name (the “second-level” category), then by website section using subdomains.

Some of this reasoning still holds true, but the domain extension system has loosened its regulations over the years. There are now well over 1,000 different domain extensions available, and even some classic extensions are used by sites beyond their original purpose. Here are some popular choices:

.com

The .com domain extension stands for “commercial.” When introduced, .com was intended for ecommerce sites. Today, it’s the most widely-used domain extension, serving over half of all websites. It’s seen by many as the default domain extension, and its ubiquity makes it the go-to choice for most online businesses, organizations, personal websites, and blogs.

There’s only one downside to the .com extension but it’s a big one: availability. There’s a good chance that the perfect .com domain name for your business is already taken by someone else.

.net

.net is the second most popular TLD after .com. It stands for “network” and was created for websites specializing in network-based technology, including ISPs, email services, and database services. In recent years .net has come to inhabit the same space as .com. Some businesses opt for this extension if their preferred .com domain is taken.

.org

This TLD was made for and limited to nonprofit organizations, hence “.org”. While this restriction was recently lifted, its original intention remains — .org is typically used by foundations and charities, educational services, open-source software projects, and other not-for-profit entities. Any website can use a .org extension, but for many .org implies that the organization behind the domain is non-commercial.

.co

The .co extension was introduced in 2010 as a .com alternative to address the shortage of desirable .com domain names. It stands for “company” or “corporation.” Like .com and .net, .co is most popular among online businesses.

It’s worth noting that the .co TLD is often paired with country code domain extensions (e.g., .co.uk), and is also the official domain extension of Colombia, the country. Still, .co is most commonly recognized globally as a .com or .net alternative.

.biz

As the name implies, .biz is intended for online businesses only. It’s the least popular extension on this list, and tends to be the cheapest. Though it is a generic domain extension, the .biz TLD is restricted to business and ecommerce websites.

How to Choose the Right Domain Extension

Think about websites you know that use .com, .org, and .net — these extensions each likely carry different meanings and set different expectations for you. It’s important to pick a domain name with an extension that appropriately communicates your type of service or organization.

When running an online business, .com will do the trick. However, it’s often not that simple with .com’s limited availability. If you can’t secure your domain of choice with the .com extension, alternative domain extension options can help put your site on the map.

In this section, I’ll compare .com with a few popular alternatives and weigh the pros and cons of each.

While .net is the second most popular business-oriented domain, it’s a distant second, used by less than 4% of websites. This is why you should always check .com before considering .net. Its prevalence simply can’t be matched.

.com provides multiple advantages. For one, potential visitors are more likely to remember your domain if it ends in .com, and be able to find it later. If you pick .net, many will probably assume your subdomain is .com anyway and land on a blank page, or worse, a competing website.

Additionally, a .com domain signals professionalism and authority in your space. Any extension other than .com might imply that another business is more established than your own, which hurts visitors’ confidence in your service.

Finally, there’s a usability advantage to .com. Smartphone keyboards include a “.com” key so users can quickly plug a domain into their browser. Unfortunately, this option isn’t available for any other domain extension, including .net. This might seem small, but even minor inconveniences can leave a poor impression on visitors. If you expect a large proportion of traffic from this channel, don’t neglect the mobile browsing experience.

The only reason to consider .net over .com is if you can’t find a suitable domain available with the .com extension. If this is the case, consider changing your domain name by adding descriptive words that modify your business, or spelling your domain name unconventionally. You might even consider purchasing the .com domain from the current owner, or changing your company name altogether to secure a .com domain.

If none of these options work as alternatives, then try the .net extension.

Technology companies will face fewer obstacles with .net, since it implies the business is related to computer “networks.” The same can’t be said for an ecommerce company, blog, or otherwise. These sites need to promote awareness of their .net extension in their branding.

If your desired domain is available with both .com and .net extensions, consider purchasing both, then redirecting your .net domain to your primary .com domain. Doing this will prevent users from browsing the wrong site and keep others from buying a similar domain to direct traffic away from you.

For most sites, the choice between .com and .net boils down to whether .com is available. If not you’ll need to weigh finding an alternative domain with .com availability or taking on the branding hurdle of a non-dot-com domain.

The appropriate uses of .org and .com are so clear because .com has always represented commercial websites, and .org has always represented for-profit businesses.

Therefore, .org’s solid reputation and availability make it a great fit for entities including NGOs, charities, free online educators (as opposed to paid services, which tend to use .com or .edu), and open-source technology platforms. If your organization falls under these categories, you can leverage .org in your brand to boost credibility. You’ll also have an easier time actually securing the domain name you want.

On the contrary, you’ll lose trust with visitors if you associate .org with your for-profit site. When we see “website.org”, most of us default to believing the website exists to offer free resources or serve the public. As a result, using this extension for a business appears deceptive.

It’s okay to attain both of these extensions for your website in order to secure your online identity. Make sure all users are directed to the better-fitting domain. Many popular brands take this precaution — try visiting starbucks.org or npr.com.

Some businesses secure both .org and .com as separate sites for their nonprofit and for-profit divisions, respectively. WordPress uses a .org site for its free CMS and a .com site for its paid site builder and hosting services.

As with .net, only use .co in your primary domain if the .com version of your desired domain name is taken and you’re unwilling to find an alternative name for your domain. From a branding perspective, .co can make a more suitable .com alternative than .net, especially for businesses outside the tech industry. .net implies network technology — .co does not.

But before you go with .co, you should be aware of the downsides. First, .co is only one letter off from .com. This similarity might nudge users to assume .com instead, causing confusion when they search for your site. To prevent this, you should clarify the “.co” part of your domain in your branding.

Second, the typical .co domain tends to be more expensive than its .com counterpart. This is to deter people from purchasing both .com and .co domains at the same time, or from buying .co domains in bulk. After all, the point of .co is to give more businesses a fitting domain when .com won’t do.

If you’re okay with these drawbacks, .co is a viable alternative TLD for your online business.

Note that, like with .net, purchasing both .com and .co extensions for the same domain stops competitors from attempting to outrank your site with a similar domain.

Not only does .biz lack the popularity of the .com, .org, .net, and .co extensions — it also presents a major branding obstacle. By labeling your website as “.business”, you signal rather bluntly that your site exists to sell.

Of course, the ultimate goal of all online businesses is to turn a profit, but it’s important not to appear too sales-y to visitors. Your online brand should prioritize the customer experience above all else. .com, .net, and even .co can accomplish this, but .biz will not.

If you reach the point where you’re deciding between .com and .biz, it’s time to settle for a different domain name with a better extension. You’ll see more visitors and create a better brand in the long run.

Does Domain Extension Affect SEO?

It’s always beneficial to think about SEO when creating or changing a website. Your site’s generic top-level domain will not affect its performance in search engines. Your top-level domain influences brand perception and trust more than anything, but Google states it does not take TLD into account when listing search results. You’re better off implementing other SEO best practices to climb the rankings.

There is one caveat here. If two or more websites share the same name and implement the same SEO practice, but have different extensions, the website with the .com domain extension will rank highest in most results. This is because people tend to trust .com websites and will generally choose them over .net or .biz alternatives, and websites with more traffic perform better in search engines.

Unlike the TLD, the name component of your domain does affect SEO. Your site’s name tells people and search engines what your organization is and/or does.

Register Your Domain

After searching, you’ve found a suitable domain that you can purchase at last. Now it’s time to take it off the market. See our step-by-step guide to registering a new domain. Then, point your domain to your web host, launch your site, and wait for the traffic to flow in.

Domain extensions are so baked into our internet vocabulary that most of us take them for granted. However, they play as big a role in your online branding as the name of your business itself. It’s worth the time to find one that communicates authority and credibility. Don’t fret if you can’t grab your top .com choice — you have options.

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Originally published Oct 14, 2020 7:15:00 AM, updated October 14 2020

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